Nearly three years ago, when I originally posted on this topic, America and torture were prevalent in the media. Over the course of the last several months more details of America’s flirtation with torture in the Bush/Cheney Administration have been exposed to further light. In that original post, many opined the instances of torture, if any, were just limited to a few bad apples in Iraq at Abu Ghraib. The most recent reports suggest otherwise, here, here, here. If you have the time and want to read the original recent CIA report and not just excerpts, you can find it here.We’ve also learned that the torture policies did not originate with lower level know nothings. Rather, they originated from and at the request of the higest levels of American leadership. We also learned that one of the primary authors of the torture memos was an active and endowed member of the Church, Jay Bybee. For more on Justice Bybee’s LDS background see here. That an individual as Jay Bybee could author such a document given his religous background, training and experience is simply beyond my ability to comprehend.
The question that prompted my original post was how does the essence of the Golden Rule play into how we treat even our most vile enemies in a preceived war scenario? Are there exceptions to Christ’s injuction that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us? If so, where are they found, and when do they apply? Is it really OK to torture people in the name, of that which we proclaim is right? Do the ends really justfy the means?
From the legal standpoint, does this conduct merit criminal prosecution? If so, who should be first in line? The CIA operative in the field following the orders and guidelines of superiors who assure him/her that “aggressive interrogation techniques” are completly within the bounds of the law? What about the dutiful Justice Jay Bybee, who created the legal fictions sufficient to support such conduct? What about the policy makers at the higest levels who requested such conduct be rationalized, legalized, and institutionalized?
Below is what I originally posted over at the Bloggernacle Times about three years ago.
Do Ye Even So To Them
So enjoins Jesus Christ on how we all should treat one another:
On its face, this seems, like a pretty simple injunction. How hard can it be to treat other people as we would like them to treat us?
Yet, there is something about this failing and fallen world that has never quite learned the significance of this simple truth. The incredibly irony, however, is that individuals at the highest leadership levels of the United States government are doing everything within their power to subvert, distort, yea . . . even torture, as it were, Christ’s command that we treat each other as we would be treated.
The current debate raging in the halls of Congress all the way up to the White House is essentially how much abuse and torture can we inflict on individuals suspected of terrorist activities, without crossing the line ourselves into the illegal and the immoral? We read in theNew York Times about turning back the clock on rape:
In international law, where rape and sexual assault have long been classified as torture and war crimes, the world has begun to accept the importance of enforcement. In 1998, a tribunal convicted a paramilitary chief for watching one of his men rape a woman in Serbia. A year ago, the world rose up in outrage when United Nations peacekeepers raped women in Congo.
You’d think this was a settled issue. But it’s been opened up again in the bill on jailing, interrogating and trying terror suspects that President Bush is trying to ram through Congress in a pre-election rush. Both the White House and Senate versions contain provisions on rape and sexual assault that turn back the clock alarmingly. They are among the many flaws that must be fixed before Congress can responsibly pass this legislation.
Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse are mentioned twice in the bill — once as crimes that could be prosecuted before military tribunals if committed by an “illegal enemy combatant,” and once as “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes if committed by an American against a detainee. But in each case, the wording creates new and disturbing loopholes.
In the bill, rape is narrowly defined as forced or coerced genital or anal penetration. It utterly leaves out other acts, as well as the notion that sex without consent is also rape, as defined by numerous state laws and federal law. That is the more likely case in a prison, where a helpless inmate would be unlikely to resist the sexual overtures of a guard or interrogator.
The section on sexual abuse requires that the act include physical contact. Thus it might not include ordering a terrified female prisoner to strip and dance, which happened in Rwanda, or compelling a male prisoner to strip and wear women’s underwear on his head, or photographing naked prisoners piled together, both of which happened at Abu Ghraib.
The Washington Post opines on the continuing abuse:
The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes . . .
But the senators who have fought to rein in the administration’s excesses — led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) — failed to break Mr. Bush’s commitment to “alternative” methods that virtually every senior officer of the U.S. military regards as unreliable, counterproductive and dangerous for Americans who may be captured by hostile governments.
Mr. Bush wanted Congress to formally approve these practices and to declare them consistent with the Geneva Conventions. It will not. But it will not stop him either, if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday. Mr. Bush will go down in history for his embrace of torture and bear responsibility for the enormous damage that has caused.
Officially, the government condems the use of torture and abuse:
Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, ratified by the United States and more than 130 other countries since 1984, forbids governments from deliberately inflicting severe physical or mental pain or suffering on those within their custody or control. Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. Beating, burning, rape, and electric shock are some of the grisly tools such regimes use to terrorize their own citizens. These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. . .
The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment.
The tragic reality since the inception of the government’s “war on terror” has been shockingly revealed for the entire world to see in the abused and tortured victims at the hands of some in America’s military and “other” government agencies at various locations around the world. Some are and remain secret. Others have been published for the world to see, such as atAbu Ghraib:
11:01 p.m., Nov. 4, 2003. Detainee with bag over head, standing on box with wires attached.
10:57 p.m., Dec. 12, 2003. Detainee after dog bite.
8:16 p.m., Oct. 24, 2003. The detainee “GUS” has a strap around his neck. The detainee is being pulled from his cell as a form of intimidation. CPL GRANER is taking the picture. SOLDIER: PFC ENGLAND
There are scores more of these types of photographs depicting the abuses and torture that were allowed to occur while good men and women did nothing. I encourage you to follow this link to Salon and view some of the more graphic and telling photos as you contemplate this debate. You will read real life accounts of sexual abuse, infliction of severe pain, and mental abuse–all done in the name of protecting freedom, and the American way of life.
Over a millennium ago, the ancient prophet Mormon described similar abuses and torture of other depraved and degenerate cultures which inhabited this same continent. Mormon wroteto his son Moroni:
7 And now I write somewhat concerning the sufferings of this people. For according to the knowledge which I have received from Amoron, behold, the Lamanites have many prisoners, which they took from the tower of Sherrizah; and there were men, women, and children.
8 And the husbands and fathers of those women and children they have slain; and they feed the women upon the flesh of their husbands, and the children upon the flesh of their fathers; and no water, save a little, do they give unto them.
9 And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—
10 And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery.
11 O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization—
12 (And only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people)
13 But O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination—
14 How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?
15 Behold, my heart cries: Wo unto this people. Come out in judgment, O God, and hide their sins, and wickedness, and abominations from before thy face!
There is already in place well written and thought out international laws governing the treatment of individuals in times of war. The Geneva Conventions have served the world well. Former warrior and secretary of state Colin Powell argued about the moral implications of the raging debate, in a letter to Senator McCain:
Dear Senator McCain:
I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redine Cojmmon Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe would be inconsisten with thd McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.
I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one of my distinguished predecessors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tint his powerful argument. The world is begining to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.
I am as familliar with The Armed Forces Officer as is Jack Vessey. It was written after all the horrors World War II and General George c. Marshall, then Secretary of Defense, used it to tell the world and to remind our soldiers of our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody.
As an American I am ashamed the leaders of my government are having this debate. America was once a moral beacon of light to the world. As former President Reagan discussed America in his farewell address to the nation, he spoke of a shining city on a hill:
And that’s about all I have to say tonight. Except for one thng. The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.
As an American today, I feel our actions, or the actions of our leaders over the last several years have tarnished the shine of that city on the hill.
As a Latter-day Saint, I am concerned about the moral and spiritual well being of America, the cradle of the Restoration. Truly Mormon and Moroni saw our day over 1600 years ago. They warn us today through The Book of Mormon of what they saw, and what today we are living. Will we heed their counsel and warning? Will we change our course? Or, will we, like the Jaredites and Nephites, before us which inhabited this land of promise, a land choice above all other lands, be swept off because we refuse to serve the true and only God?